I set out the Government's position with regard to the Falun Gong organisation on a number of occasions last year. Falun Gong was banned by the Chinese authorities in July 1999 and the Chinese government continues to regard it as an "evil cult". However, the Government takes seriously concerns about human rights in China, including those of Falun Gong members.
This issue has been raised both bilaterally and through European Union channels, notably through the formal framework of the EU-China human rights dialogue, which was established in 1996. Through the dialogue, the EU continues to share with China its experience in the field of human rights protection and promotion, and to urge China to take clear steps to improve the human rights situation generally, and more specifically with respect to the freedoms of expression, religion and belief, which have a particular impact on individual practitioners of Falun Gong. The next session of the EU-China human rights dialogue will take place next month.
Human rights are a constant and important issue of dialogue and discussion with the Chinese authorities, at both national and European Union level. In this regard, I welcome the confirmation of continued commitment to the human rights dialogue in China's first ever policy paper on the EU, which was published in September 2003, and the reiteration by both sides, at the most recent EU-China Summit in Beijing on 30 October 2003, of their continued commitment to work towards achieving more meaningful and positive results on the ground.
The specific cases to which the Deputy refers involve Chinese citizens. They are subject to Chinese law while in that country. As they are not Irish citizens, Ireland has no consular function in this matter.